Either a temporal anomaly has disrupted Valve Time, or Valve has just been very busy. Not only has it announced and launched Team Fortress 2's Mann vs. Machine mode and the closed beta of a big Steam community update, it's updated Portal 2's free Perpetual Testing Initiative with support for co-op puzzle creation and a new Quick Play feature.
In addition, current owners of Portal 2 will receive 75% off Portal 2 coupons to share with friends. The coupon isn't in my Steam inventory, but others are reporting that they've found it, so have a look. If all of your friends already own Portal 2, why not check to see if any sad, Portal 2-less souls are hanging out in our Steam group?
It looks as though Valve are working on a proper follow up to the Source Engine they've been gradually improving over the course of the last decade. Valve Time have pulled numerous references to a "next-gen 'Source 2'" engine along with various "Source 2 tools" icons from the guts of the Source Film Maker.
Valve have previously played down the need for an entirely new version of Source, and have concentrated instead on updating the original version to keep up with modern engine tech. That's worked quite nicely so far, but if these references are correct, a more significant step up is on the way. Here are a few of the pulled strings referring to Source 2.
------------------------------------------------------------------------ def setEngine( self, version=ENGINE.SOURCE ): ''' Set the engine version for the project, i.e. 'Source 2' ------------------------------------------------------------------------
------------------------------------------------------------------------ Line 1387: '''Return an str with the current engine version. If key doesn't doesn't exist, assume 'Source', otherwise invalid -- assume next-gen 'Source 2'.''' ------------------------------------------------------------------------
Exciting stuff. But it wouldn't be a post about Valve and the future without somebody saying something about Half-Life 2: Episode Three. Is the reason that it's taken so long that it's being built in a more advanced engine that will explode our minds when it's finally released? I have no idea. Here are the icons that Valve Time discovered. Look at that high fidelity hammer. Oooo.
Way back in December 2009, when this humble intern was an even humbler college sophomore with no job who was sinking scores of hours into Dragon Age: Origins, we reported on a guy who goes by DemonStrate beating Portal in a touch over 10 minutes. While that seemed astounding at the time, the record has since been smashed to pieces by SourceRuns, demolishing GLaDOS in just 8:31. That's a good minute and a half faster than DemonStrate, and 53 seconds faster than their own previous record-breaking run. See the video for yourself below.
"To be SDA legal we have done our run without using scripts/cheats/hacks for any portion of the run," the speed demons posted on YouTube. "This run first started after the discovery of a new glitch, which snowballed into a whirlwind of discoveries of new tricks, skips, and glitches. We started running chambers in April, took a brief hiatus, and then resumed work in late June. The bulk of the run was completed in about 2 weeks time."
This is a picture of a panel that, on Friday, will be bolted onto the Japanese HTV-3 resupply craft and hurled into space. The craft will ferry supplies to the International Space Station and launch a little bit of Portal 2 into the cosmos. A post on the Portal 2 blog spotted by VG247 mentions that an anonymous NASA tech managed to burn the tiny picture of Wheatley space core onto one of the craft's panels. "Please note that when we mentioned an "anonymous tech at NASA" we weren't kidding: NASA in no way officially endorses secretly laser-engraving characters from Portal onto their spacecraft," say Valve.
On which note, if you happen to be a NASA engineer with access to a laser-engraving machine, and you just happen to accidentally burn the PCG logo onto a panel and then send it into space then I'd like to say that we'd absolutely keep it a secret, and definitely wouldn't post it everywhere on the site and then look at it and burst out cheering every day forever. JUST SAYING.
Now, because space is brilliant, here's a video that Tom spotted over the weekend made up of pictures snapped from the International Space Station in low Earth orbit. Prepare to have the tingly awe receptors in your frontal lobe tickled ... NOW.
View from the ISS at Night from Knate Myers on Vimeo.
Update: Thanks to those who have pointed out that it's the space core. The Internet Error Police will be here shortly to perform a routine disintegration. My last request is for someone to laser-etch "I should have written SPACE COOOORE" onto my tombstone, and then fire it into space.
Remember the prototype for a Portal 2 Lego set that we mentioned a few weeks back? It was submitted on Lego Cuusoo, a site that hosts idea pitches for future commercial sets. If an idea gains enough followers it's forwarded to a "review stage" where giant Lego men poke it to see if the idea's viable, and then gradually rotate a huge, C shaped fist to deliver a clumsy thumbs-up or thumbs-down on the project.
Portal Lego has now reached that stage! Will it succeed? Who knows. It's impossible to know what's going on behind those fixed ever-smiling faces. It's out of our hands now, but we can still look at pictures of the prototypes, which are probably the cutest thing on the internet right now. Take a look.
UPDATE: Rabbit Island is in fact the cutest thing on the internet right now, but Portal Lego takes a close second place.
You love Steam sales. I love Steam sales. EA, however, don't love Steam sales. Just a few weeks ago their senior vice president made his opinion clear, claiming that they "cheapen" intellectual property. A few days ago the Origin Summer Sale kicked off anyway.
We asked Valve's director of business management, Jason Holtman, whether Steam sales have any affect on day-one purchases during last week's Develop conference. He doesn't agree with EA. Not even a little bit.
"If that’s what we thought was happening, or that’s what we saw happening, we wouldn't do it. Actually, all the data is contrary to that. A promotion is not a policy; a promotion is just a feature to give people more value," said Jason, speaking to PC Gamer.
"It’s not as if a 75% offer or a 50% off sale at some point in time cannibalises a sale that would have happened earlier, it’s just not true. We’re actually seeing both of them growing. We don’t see one cannibalising the other. If we did, we wouldn't do it." he continued.
Steam sales go from the sublime to the ridiculous-ly cheap. There's even one going on right now. Check out this real time evidence of a Steam summer sale in progress. It's a wonderful time for bargains.
"We put Left 4 Dead 2 and Portal 2 on sale. If we thought that was killing our franchise, or hurting the value of games, or hurting the revenue we could generate as a company, we wouldn't do it," continues Jason. "We've even gone so far as to give away Portal for free a couple of times. Whole days where it's not free for a day, it's just free."
Valve's sales still weren't dented: "We looked at this amazing data afterwards. The day after the sales were exactly the same, if not more," he says.
"People aren't making a decision thinking 'I'm always going to wait for perfect pricing.' There are time elements to it, there are fan elements to it, there are value elements to it. People sometimes like paying the full amount on the first day because they want to play it now and they want to be a fan.
"Those features you’re talking about - like the sales - we just think of them as customer features. They're not policies or mandates. Things like this are super smart: this would be fun; people would play this game; they’d pick it up if they didn’t have it; they’d tell their friends about it."
For more from Jason, check our story on how TF2 inspired Greenlight. We've also posted his views on Greenlight's rating system.
From the Perpetually Tantalising Initiative comes this amazing looking plan for a Portal 2 themed Lego set - in much the same vein as this equally-crowd supported Minecraft set that all the cool kids are playing with. While you won't be able to shoot little blocky portals, you will be able to build your own Test Chambers, set up gloriously in-appropriate photoshoots involving Chell and GLaDOS, and be the envy of all your friends for more reasons than having parents and some semblance of dietary control.
But it'll only happen if enough people support it. And if Valve says yes, obviously. But why would they be so mean as to deny the world something that so obviously has to happen? Here are a few pictures in case you need any further convincing of this incontrovertible fact...
Want to play with these cool toys? Pledge your support here.
The Game Critics Awards are a big deal. They're the Metacriticization of E3: after the show, more than 30 publications vote on 20 categories of awards, their ballots swimming together like a school of trophy-shaped fish. (PC Gamer is a few of those fish, too.)
This year’s awards were announced on Tuesday. And among those 20 categories this year, zero PC-exclusive games won. That happened in 2011, too. I’m confused and livid about that. We’re in the middle of a PC gaming renaissance—as a body of critics, shouldn’t our awards reflect that?
The awards have a mixed, embarrassing history when it comes to the PC. Let’s revisit the last decade of Best PC Game winners:
Were we really that overwhelmed by Doom III and SWG? But yeah: Spore. How did we get it wrong—so Price Is Right Fail Horningly-wrong—thrice? Spore is exactly the sort of game that woos multiplatform gaming critics that aren’t looking closely—it’s an amusing toy, an easily-explained curiosity from The Faraway Eccentric Continent of PC Gaming. On a ballot, Spore was an incredibly safe bet for someone who didn't see everything the PC had to offer at the show—like Dawn of War II in '08, or F.E.A.R. in '05. That this fooled us three times is evidence that collectively, gaming media hasn’t examined seriously what happens on the PC at E3.
A PC-exclusive game hasn’t won Best Original Game since 2006 or Best of Show since 2005. Both winners were Spore. But hey, let’s not dwell on that bleak and multi-appendaged past. 2012 was a decent year for PC exclusives at E3. There were plenty to pick from, and absolutely none were officially recognized: Neverwinter, SimCity, The Elder Scrolls Online, Hawken, Otherland, End of Nations, Shootmania Storm, MechWarrior Online, Natural Selection 2, World of Warplanes, Arma 3, Company of Heroes 2. The stand-out omission from the awards list, though, is PlanetSide 2. It should’ve won Best Online Multiplayer. It should’ve won Best PC, and it could’ve won Commendation for Innovation.
PlanetSide 2 isn't some exotic animal. It’s sci-fi Battlefield, but better, bigger, more beautiful, and it never sleeps. It also wasn’t sequestered in some obscure corner of the show—it was the first thing you saw when you walked through the doors of West Hall. You couldn’t miss it. Anyone could prance up and play it without an appointment. IGN, Polygon, GameSpy, and Game Informer did give it significant nods. I wrote in our personal E3 picks post: “Occupying someone else’s base means something beyond an icon changing colors on your HUD—just by contending for an outpost, you’re earning a tiny trickle of resources. Own it, and that earned-over-time allowance extends to your whole empire (while being denied to the enemy). The magic of that mechanic is apparent even in an hour-long play session with a character I’ll never use again in a crowded, loud convention center. Whether you like it or not, you’re a part of something.”
Sure, The Last of Us—the game that won everything—looks nice. It’s genetically-engineered for critical attention: Uncharted and zombies and movielike and full of those meaningful moral choices we can't get enough of. It'll probably enjoy plenty of high review scores and plenty of eye-level shelf space at GameStop. My peers were wooed enough by it to award it Best of Show, Best Original Game, Best Console Game, Best Action/Adventure Game, and give it a Special Commendation For Sound.
Maybe everyone played PlanetSide 2 and just wasn’t moved by its unprecedented scale and ambition, staggering balance of tactical complexity and accessibility, or original engine technology that makes Unreal 3 look like calculator firmware. I think that’s the sort of next-generational newness we should be drawing attention to. I don’t own a tablet, so I hope that’s an indication for how underwhelmed I am by tie-in apps, but did you see PlanetSide's jaw-dropping tablet/browser/mobile-driven infrastructure that lets you see dynamic strategic maps and join voice chat without being in-game? Egad.
Call it what you want
What's most upsetting are the names of the awards themselves. They're undeniably skewed to reward the companies that put on press conferences and that spend thousands of dollars making the show an expensive spectacle: Microsoft, Sony, and Nintendo. The PC doesn’t have a press conference, of course (although we've daydreamed plenty about what it'd be like). And like a very-talented cousin that Sony doesn't want overshadowing itself at its own talent show, PlanetSide 2 creators Sony Online Entertainment don’t get a second of stage time at Sony’s conference. Coincidentally, critics don’t have many categories that invite celebration of the PC.
Since 2010, game writers have picked a Best Motion Simulation Game, a relatively recent trend, but inexplicably we can’t nominate a Best MMO. 13 dungeon-raiding, gold-farming years after EverQuest, and MMO isn’t a comparable genre to racing, strategy, or “social/casual,” which each have their own award? In "Best Hardware/Peripheral" components compete with controllers and consoles in the same incongruous, Frankenstein-category.
The oddest and least platform-agnostic award is "Best Downloadable Game.” Commenting on this makes me feel like a student who takes the awkward duty of telling his teacher that his chalkboard math is wrong. “...Excuse me? Every game on PC is downloadable.” The award was added in 2009, so it was absolutely a response to the healthy niche that $5-20 games have carved for themselves on XBLA and PSN. But if the goal is to highlight smaller-budget games, why not, y’know, make a Best Indie Game award? The Game Critics Awards have never had such an accolade in their history.
Sure, indie games don’t have the largest footprint at E3 (a separate issue that I’d be delighted to yell about), but they do have IndieCade, a small hub of games hosted off the show floor. Especially with Kickstarter’s emergence, it’s a complete failure to reflect the industry we work, buy, and game in that there’s no official opportunity for critics to praise indie games.
I know we’re usually encouraged to shrug off mainstream game awards, like the ones that appear on television. But this isn’t one of them, actually. This is the closest gaming media comes to having a collective voice about something. It’s the one instance where we’re communicating as a single organization. It’s an opportunity to get it right. And on the PC, we totally aren’t. If we’re not prepared to have a set of awards that at least fundamentally reflect the kinds of experiences millions of people are involved in—MMOs and indie games among them—what are we doing?
GLaDOS is recruiting new test subjects, and they might be your kids. Valve has invited educators to sign up for its "Steam for Schools" beta program, which offers a special edition of Steam featuring only Portal 2 and the puzzle maker. The idea is to use Portal 2's mechanics to teach basic physics and spatial reasoning.
The FAQ explains Portal in educational terms: "The interaction tends to be free-form and experimental and as students encounter new tools and challenges they may develop an intuitive understanding of physical principles such as mass and weight, acceleration, momentum, gravity, and energy. The games also put a premium on critical thinking, spatial reasoning, problem solving, iteration and collaboration skills, and encourage overall inquiry into STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math) learning."
Current lesson plans include "Introduction to Parabolas with the Puzzle Maker," "Spatial Visualization and Perspectives," and "Building a Simple Harmonic Oscillator." Well, when you put it that way, I no longer feel clever enough to play Portal 2.
More information on Aperture Science's educational efforts be found on the official site.
Graham, Chris and Tom Francis gather to discuss the Portal 2 Perpetual Testing Initiative, Diablo 3, Torchlight 2, upcoming MMO The Secret World and Deus Ex: Human Revolution's problematic cutscenes. We also talk about Graham and Rich's ongoing FIFA 12 rivalry and (try to) answer your questions from Twitter. Also, we decide that capitalism doesn't work. See below for show notes.
Download the MP3, subscribe, or find our older podcasts here.
Chris' Portal 2 Perpetual Testing Initiative hands on video and the final map. Tom's Torchlight 2 video series. Chris and Tom Senior's first look at The Secret World.